Carnage For Christmas


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Carnage For Christmas
"Mackay succeeds where [others] have failed partly because there is a deep vein of sincerity beneath the playful surface of her work."

If it seems a little early for seasonal fare, that’s because Alice Maio Mackay’s latest work is travelling the festival circuit, just screened at Frameline48 and on its way to Fantasia. The impressively prolific Australian director is one of the most interesting new voices to emerge in recent years, and here – thanks in part to tight editing from The People’s Joker director/star Vera Drew – her distinctive style is notably more polished and mature. It’s a film that will speak to a wider audience but one which hasn’t lost its edge.

Like her previous films, it has meta elements and keeps the fourth wall feeling frangible, as we follow a podcaster – in this case one famed for her true crime investigations. Lola (Jeremy Moineau) is returning to her hometown for Christmas (which, this being Australia, is in the middle of summer). Part suburban dormer town, part back country nowheresville, Purdan has just one claim to fame: it used to have its very own serial killer. Starting out as a kindly old man who used to dress as Santa and give toys to local children, The Toymaker went through a traumatic experience which turned him on to terror. Lola was one of his victims, a rare survivor. He’s been gone for many years, but she still has nightmares. Now they’re about to begin all over again.

The past couple of decades have been saturated with attempts to approach the slasher film ironically, most of which were feeble, and sometimes close to unwatchable, because they didn’t really understand what made the subgenre work in the first place. Mackay succeeds where they have failed partly because there is a deep vein of sincerity beneath the playful surface of her work. She cares about her characters and they care about each other, making it easy for the audience to connect. She also brings something fresh to it because most of her characters are queer, so know all too well what it’s like to face predation. After a miserable childhood during which she was bullied because she couldn’t convince as a boy, Lola, who has since transitioned, is taking no shit from anybody, whether that’s the bullies, the local police, or a serial murderer with a penchant for seasonal gimmicks.

Lola’s gender history is not at the fore here, with other factors shaping the plot, but Mackay does take the opportunity to make observations about some of the day to day things that colour life as a trans person. Lola’s sister’s girlfriend practically introduces herself with “I’m not transphobic but...” There is talk about chasers, and that thing where people pointedly doubt a trans person’s gender to their face but then get it right when talking to other people and not paying attention to their words. There are also people who are simply confused because they think they recognise her but can’t place who she is, and young police officer who seems awed by her, which is perhaps because he sees her as brave, perhaps just because he’s a fan of her work.

This being a horror film set in a small town, senior police officers are not much help. “If she’s still missing in a couple of days then you can fill out a missing person thingy,” says a senior constable, also finding time to make a lesbophobic comment, when Lola goes to enquire about a woman whom viewers already know is one of the Toymaker’s victims. But wait – it can’t be the same Toymaker, can it? Lola isn’t convinced by suggestions of the supernatural. The film thus presents us with a conventional mystery alongside the sensation and gore – of which latter there is a good deal. Truly independent horror filmmakers tend to develop the most innovative special effects techniques, and when they’re suddenly given a bigger budget, the results are spectacular. Carnage For Christmas does not disappoint.

Enhanced by Mackay’s signature vivid colour pallete, rich in purples and greens, the film makes use of visual distortion and blurring which remind us that perception and memory are fickle things. There are some brief but clever constructed montages which work in service of the story rather than dominating as they sometimes have in the past. The performances work, with the director’s former collaborators now really finding their feet. Overall, this is a satisfying piece of work with a lot more personality that most of what you’ll find in the subgenre. It’s a fun watch, and bodes well for the future.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2024
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Carnage For Christmas packshot
When true-crime podcaster and sleuth Lola visits her hometown for the first time since running away and transitioning, the local urban legend, The Toymaker, is the least of her worries. But then the vengeful ghost of the historical murderer seemingly rises again.

Director: Alice Maio Mackay

Writer: Alice Maio Mackay, Benjamin Pahl Robinson

Starring: Chris Asimos, Dominique Booth, Betsey Brown, Lewi Dawson, Olivia Beeble

Year: 2024

Runtime: 70 minutes

Country: Australia

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